In this article:
- Brown rice is a crude, unpolished whole grain.
- It contains various nutrients, including vitamins B1, B3, and B6, minerals such as phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium, which are beneficial to health.
- Brown rice can help improve heart health and maintain blood sugar levels.
- Brown rice has a higher content of fiber, vitamins, and minerals in comparison to white rice.
- An allergy to brown rice can cause gastrointestinal problems and skin reactions that flare-up after consuming or while cooking the rice.
Rice is a household staple around the world, and a variety of types are grown globally, such as black, red, brown, basmati, and jasmine.
Brown rice is the edible, unpolished grain that is left after removing the hull. Brown rice has a bran layer, a germ, and an endosperm. White rice is the same grain of brown rice but has had the bran layer removed.
Brown rice contains several nutrients, mainly found in the bran layer that gives it a distinctive color. The types of fatty acids and aromatic compounds in different brown rice varieties give each a distinctive aroma and flavor.
Brown rice has a nuttier flavor and chewy, dense texture when compared with white rice.
Diets rich in whole grains have been shown to be beneficial and healthy.
Whole grains such as brown rice have been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain forms of cancer. Brown rice has a lower glycemic index than refined grains such as white rice and white flour. (1)
When rice is milled and polished, turning brown rice into white rice, 80% of the vitamin B1, 67% of the vitamin B3, and 90% of the vitamin B6 are lost. Additionally, the rice loses half of its phosphorus and manganese content.
One cup of cooked brown rice contains 216 calories, 5 g protein, 2 g fat, and 45 g carbohydrates, of which 3.5 g is fiber. It also contains 12% of the daily value of thiamin (vitamin B1), 15% of the daily value of niacin (B3), and 14% of the daily value of vitamin B6. (2)
It also provides 20% of your daily magnesium requirements, 16% of your daily phosphorus requirements, and 88% of your daily manganese requirements. (2)
Types of Brown Rice
Many varieties of whole grain and brown rice are available. The color of the rice is determined by the content of anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds found in plants.
- Brown Rice: Brown rice is unpolished rice where only the outer hull is removed, but the bran and germ are still intact. This rice contains up to five times the fiber and double the iron of white rice.
- Red Rice: Anthocyanins give the bran a red color. When compared with brown rice, red rice contains similar amounts of fiber, twice as much iron, and six times more zinc. It also cooks faster than brown rice.
- Black Rice: The anthocyanins in black rice cause the black appearance when dry, which turns purple once cooked. Black rice contains triple the fiber of brown rice and cooks faster. Black rice has different varieties, including forbidden rice or Indonesian black rice.
- Purple Rice (Forbidden Rice): This is a short-grain variety of black rice. It is purple when dry as well as when cooked. It has double the iron content and four times the zinc content of brown rice.
- Wild Rice: This is not technically a rice variety, but a grain harvested from a wild-growing aquatic grass. Wild rice is native to North America.It contains eight times as much vitamin E and the same amount of fiber as brown rice. It requires soaking, more water, and longer cooking time compared with other rice types.
Health Benefits of Brown Rice
As brown rice is a whole grain, it boasts several positive health benefits.
1. Promotes Heart Health
Fiber has been shown to help reduce the amount of plaque formation in arteries, making brown rice a healthy choice.
A 2014 study found that replacing white rice with brown rice may decrease cardiovascular risk factors and inflammatory markers. (3)
A 2016 study found that whole grains have been linked to the prevention of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, perhaps due to the phenolic compounds found in them. (4)
Studies have found that whole grains such as brown rice are beneficial for cardiovascular health. More research is needed to isolate the valuable compounds and determine the mechanisms by which brown rice is beneficial.
2. Helps to Control Blood Sugar
Many diabetics think they cannot eat rice as it may spike their blood sugar levels. However, brown rice is lower on the glycemic index scale and is digested slowly, resulting in a smaller change in blood sugar, when compared with white rice.
A 2010 study found that replacing white rice with whole grains and brown rice may lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (5)
Another study found that substituting brown rice for white rice can reduce the fasting insulin response and 24-hour glucose in overweight individuals. (6)
A study done in 2016 found that a vegan diet with brown rice resulted in lower hemoglobin A1c levels and better glucose control than a standard diabetic diet. (7)
Another study found that a diet with brown rice and other high-fiber foods improved the endothelial function of patients with diabetes. (8)
Studies have found that brown rice is more effective at helping diabetics control blood sugar levels than white rice. Patients with diabetes should still discuss overall carbohydrate intake with their physician or dietitian.
More research is needed to determine the compounds responsible for this effect and the mechanisms by which brown rice is beneficial.
3. Serves as Baby Food
Infant cereals are often one of the first foods offered to babies when solid foods are introduced.
A 2019 study found that whole-grain infant cereals, when compared with refined cereals, are more beneficial to babies and provide more vitamins, minerals, and indigestible fibers that feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. (9)
However, arsenic and other metals have been found in rice and rice-based baby foods. Hence, parents should offer their babies a variety of foods that include fruits, vegetables, starches, and proteins. (9)
More research is needed to determine the long-term safety of rice-based infant cereals and to evaluate the health claims of brown rice in infant foods.
Other Health Benefits
1. Lowers Cholesterol
Brown rice has more fiber than white rice and is considered a whole grain. The soluble fiber and oil in brown rice have been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol (often referred to as “bad” cholesterol) levels.
A 2013 study found that certain compounds in germinated brown rice may help prevent or manage high cholesterol levels in diabetic rats. (10)
Another study done in 2019 found that germinated brown rice may help reduce high cholesterol levels and other cardiovascular risk factors in rats. (11)
2. May Protect Against Cancer
Brown rice contains antioxidants. These powerful compounds, in addition to fiber, have been shown to help prevent various types of cancer, including colon and breast cancers.
GABA-enhanced compounds were extracted from brown rice and were shown to stop the reproduction of certain cancer cells and help to stimulate the immune response to cancer. (12)
Additionally, brown rice and rice bran have been found to be chemopreventive foods due to their antioxidant and phytochemical content. (13)
A 2016 study found that fermented brown rice and rice bran helped to control tumor growth in rats and may help to prevent prostate cancer. (14)
3. Maintains Nervous System Health
Brown rice is a great source of manganese, which helps to produce necessary fatty acids and hormones in the body that contribute to a healthy nervous system.
Magnesium, also found in brown rice, helps to balance the body’s calcium, which helps to regulate nerves and muscles.
The vitamin E in brown rice has been linked to the prevention of many brain disorders caused by oxidative damage. A 2018 study found that pressurized brown rice may improve cognitive function in mice and may prevent Alzheimer’s disease. (15)
4. Boosts Immune Function
Brown rice contains many vitamins, minerals, and powerful plant compounds that support immune system function. Additionally, brown rice contains antioxidants that help fight free radicals that cause damage in the body.
A 2010 study found that adults who consumed about ¾ of a serving of whole grains per day generally had an overall higher diet quality and consumed more fiber and fatty acids than those who consumed lower servings of whole grains. (16)
High diet quality is key in keeping the immune defenses strong.
5. Aids in Weight Loss
The fiber in brown rice can lead to increased satiety over a long period. It also aids with digestion and regularity.
A 2012 study found that whole grains helped with bodyweight management by aiding weight loss or preventing undesirable regaining of weight. (17)
More research is needed to determine the effects of brown rice on weight management and weight loss, but whole grains have generally been found to be health-promoting as opposed to their refined counterparts.
While brown rice is associated with several health benefits, many of these claims were findings of studies done on animals and have not been proven in human trials. More research is needed to determine the efficacy and mechanisms of brown rice in relation to particular health conditions.
Brown Rice vs. White Rice
Brown rice and white rice are from the same plant, but brown rice still has the bran intact. Only the outer hull has been removed on brown rice. White rice has had both the outer hull and bran removed and is then polished.
Brown rice is slightly lower in calories than white rice – 1 cup of cooked brown rice contains 216 calories, whereas 1 cup of cooked white rice contains 242 calories.
Brown rice also has more fiber, minerals, and vitamins than white rice. Due to its fiber content, brown rice also has a lower glycemic index than white rice.
Brown Rice vs. Quinoa
Quinoa is another whole grain and is also a healthy choice. Quinoa has more protein, fiber, and slightly more calories than brown rice.
One cup of cooked quinoa has 39 g of total carbohydrates, while 1 cup of brown rice has 45 g of carbohydrates. Both starches are gluten-free and are excellent side dishes.
Proper Selection and Storage
Rice can be bought in bulk as well as prepackaged. When purchasing brown rice in a package, check for the “use by” or “best by” date, as the oils in brown rice can go rancid after a while.
It is best to keep dry brown rice in the refrigerator or freezer to extend the shelf life of the grain. If kept in an airtight container, brown rice will keep for about 6 months.
Due to its outer coating, brown rice requires more water and longer cooking time than white rice.
Brown Rice and Drug Interactions
Brown rice is generally regarded as safe, especially, as consumed from food sources. There are no side effects from normal, moderate consumption of brown rice.
Brown Rice Allergy
An allergy to brown rice is common in Asian countries or areas where rice is consumed daily as a staple food source. In areas where rice is cultivated, more allergies occur from contact with rice pollen than from consuming rice.
Individuals allergic to brown rice may have a reaction when consuming rice or when handling rice while cooking. Brown rice allergy may cause distress in the gastrointestinal system and skin reactions.
Rice proteins tend to be safer than wheat, dairy, or soy and are not typical allergens. An allergic reaction to brown rice may be due to cross-contamination with another allergen during processing or cooking.
Ideas for Serving Brown Rice
Brown rice can be enjoyed in several ways:
- Heat cooked rice with milk. Add cinnamon, raisins, and honey. Stir to combine and enjoy as a dessert.
- Use leftover cold rice in salads with greens, vegetables, legumes, and other proteins. Vinaigrette dressings go well with rice salads.
- Cook rice in broth or stock, as you would in water. Add in diced vegetables. Once cooked, mix in herbs, spices, and chopped or slivered nuts to make a delicious pilaf.
- Use short-grain brown rice to make sushi by layering warm steamed rice on top of a seaweed sheet. Top rice with fresh vegetables and fish, and then roll and cut.
- Use brown rice as a base for a delicious and filling grain bowl- top steamed rice with beans, chopped vegetables, and other proteins. Then add nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and dressing on top. This is a great meal to use up leftovers or please picky eaters.
Why is there a price difference between brown and white rice?
White rice has a higher market demand and is produced at a larger scale than brown rice. Therefore, it can be priced lower.
Brown rice also has a shorter shelf life than white rice. Hence, more resources are used to preserve brown rice during transportation and storage and to get it to markets/stores on time. All of these factors make brown rice more costly.
How much brown rice should you eat in a day?
Brown rice can be enjoyed in a ½-1 cup serving per day.
Is arsenic present in brown rice?
Brown rice has 80% more arsenic than its white counterpart. Arsenic is pulled into the grain through the soil and stored in the outer layers. These outer layers are removed during processing into white rice.
While brown rice has more fiber and nutrients than white rice, it also has more arsenic.
Eating brown rice in moderation will not be harmful to your health. Healthy diets should include a variety of foods, including a diverse array of whole grains.
Is brown rice gluten-free?
All rice is gluten-free. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat products.
Sticky rice sometimes referred to as “glutinous rice,” is actually still gluten-free and refers to the sticky nature of the shorter rice grains.
What is germinated brown rice?
Germinated brown rice is brown rice that is sprouted. Germinating rice involves soaking the rice and then leaving it out to form sprouts.
Germinated rice has more gamma-aminobutyric acids (GABAs), which offer health benefits. (18)
Brown rice is a whole grain that is unrefined and unpolished, has a chewy texture and nutty flavor, and is grown in the same areas as white rice.
Brown rice comes in a variety of types, similar to white rice. It contains more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than white rice. Eating whole grains such as brown rice provides many health benefits.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Alex Roberts, MS, CD, (Registered Dietician Nutritionist)
Rice is a versatile grain, a food staple, enjoyed by people all over the world, especially in Asia. Rice comes in different colors, shapes, and sizes. Of all the varieties, white and brown rice are the most popular.
Rice consists mostly of carbohydrates with small amounts of protein and minimal fat. It is considered a healthy carbohydrate option when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet.
No. If not eaten in excessive quantities, brown rice is not bad for your health. A half-cup of cooked rice is the average serving size.
Arsenic, a toxic chemical naturally found in the environment, has been found in rice and rice-based products. There have been some studies that show brown rice is higher in arsenic than white rice. (19)
Levels of arsenic have been increasing in some areas due to pollution. If consumed in moderation, a few servings a week, arsenic levels are not of concern. However, if excessive amounts of rice are consumed daily, one may want to decrease their intake to avoid the risk of chronic diseases.
It can aid in weight loss if consumed as part of a healthy diet. Whole-grain consumption is recommended as part of a healthy diet. Brown rice contains fiber, which can help with digestion and the feeling of fullness. (20)
Brown rice is a whole grain and hence considered healthier than white rice. This means it contains all parts of the grain, including the fibrous bran, the nutritious germ, and the carb-rich endosperm. (21)
White rice means that it has the bran and germ removed, which leaves it with very few essential nutrients. For this reason, brown rice is usually considered a healthier option than white rice. Plus, brown rice has more nutrients than white rice. Brown rice contains fiber, which can lower cholesterol. It is also good for antioxidant production.
Brown rice contains selenium, which plays an important role in thyroid hormone production, and magnesium, which helps with muscle contraction and bone development. (22)
In addition, brown rice contains plant compounds called lignans that help protect against heart disease. Studies have shown lignans can reduce the amount of fat in the blood, lower blood pressure, and decrease inflammation in the arteries. (23)
Whole grains are a preferred source of carbohydrates over refined grains, especially for people who have diabetes or impaired insulin sensitivity.
Whole grains, like brown rice, have a higher fiber content than refined grains (white rice). Brown rice also contains protein, which has been shown to help with blood glucose control.
Yes. However, it is recommended to stop eating a couple of hours before bedtime for better digestion and to avoid feeling full.
Brown rice is as versatile as white rice, so it can be consumed in the same way as white rice. However, take your taste preference into consideration. Brown rice has a nuttier flavor and chewier texture than white rice.
Brown rice usually needs to be rinsed under running water before cooking to remove dirt and debris. Also, brown rice takes longer to cook due to its fibrous layers that have been removed in white rice.
About Alex Roberts, MS, RDN, CD: Alex is a clinical dietitian at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. She provides medical nutrition therapy and education to patients in the critical care unit. Outside of work, Alex enjoys spending time in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, and providing nutrition and wellness information to her family and friends.